Give Bath Place a chance: clock is ticking for community venture
A LEAMINGTON community group threatened with losing its home to developers has agreed a stay of eviction.
Bath Place Community Venture last week agreed to extend its lease at the former library in Avenue Road until July 27, and could stay longer if possible.
The venture’s landlord, Warwickshire College, wants to sell the listed building to pay for repairs at its main site.
At a heated special meeting last week, members voted to ask trustees not to sign any agreement until it had taken legal advice.
Board of trustees chairman David Williams told the meeting the college was “not the evil bogeyman” and constructive negotiations, not legal confrontation were the only “realistic” way forward.
Some venture staff and users claim a covenant requires the building to be used for the public good, but trustee Chris Barrow said there was no such obligation.
Instead he wanted to ensure Bath Place was in a position to buy the library if the chance arose, outlining plans for moving into digital media, creating a photographic studio and even a ‘fab lab’ with 3D printers.
Some had doubts about how this would help children’s and mothers’ groups the venture caters for.
Helen Lothian, voted in as a trustee on the night, said: “We have to keep the community involved because we’re alienating people at the moment.”
Sydni Centre manager Kate Cliffe said the venture needed good relationships with local authorities so it could find alternative premises.
There were concerns at the lack of detail about the college’s talks. Roger Grenville, who was involved with Bath Place in the 1980s, called for the venture to mobilise community support.
He described the college as “caught between avarice and altruism” adding: “They would rather have this building converted into luxury flats like the townhouses opposite Jephson Gardens.”
Defending the college, its property manager Chris Paget said it was in “advanced” discussions, but a deal could still fall through. Denying avarice, Mr Paget said the college was under “massive pressure” to refurbish its six-storey main building and voiced frustration about two years dealing with Bath Place, in which letters had vanished amid successive changes of trustees.
Former venture director Steve Baylis recalled how Mr Paget had offered him the use of the former library the day after fire ravaged Bath Place’s original premises in 2009.
With plans to buy the building even before then, he said successive management teams had “wasted” more than £72,000 on failed business plans, adding: “Bath Place should have purchased the building by now. The college should have been applauded for the support they have given us, not pilloried.”
• STUDENTS have called for Warwick University to reconsider its decision not to set up a study space at Bath Place Community Venture.
It was claimed last week the university had pulled out of creating a site in Leamington at both the Avenue Road community centre and Warwick District Council-owned ‘creative arches’, although the district council says the university has not yet ruled out any site.
But at a special meeting to discuss Bath Place’s future, students offered to lobby the university to think again, with a vote by the student council on Monday to ask the university
The venture’s site supervisor Clayton Denwood said: “It’s a great option because the building was built for educational purposes and if the university is looking for a space for students linked with the community, I can’t imagine a better future.”
He thanked student volunteers for their support, and said income from the university could help enable Bath Place to remain at the former library, if a deal between landlord Warwickshire College and developers fell through.
Mr Clayton believes plans to hire out space for computing, photography and possibly music was within Bath Place’s mission statement to offer services to people who could not otherwise use them, and said having secure tenure would enable the venture to plan for the future and build a business case.
He added: “It gives us time to develop a vision that’s better for Leamington, more in the interests of the community and everybody that uses the building.”
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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